How to Build an AirHarp




Introduction: How to Build an AirHarp

About: Lyratron was founded in August of 2011 after four years of research into the development of gesture-based electronic musical instruments. Originally called Light Harp Industries (founded 2007), we continue ...
The AirHarp is a type of digital autoharp that allows musicians of diverse skill levels to play music of advanced harmonic complexity simply by pressing four pushbuttons and "strumming" invisible harp strings in the air.  Developed by musician-turned-engineer Peter DeSimone, the AirHarp is pocket-portable and suitable both as an introductory instrument and an accompaniment tool for singers and songwriters.  It allows direct access to fourteen chords within a given key (including the seven diatonic chords), and can play in any key.  This allows the AirHarp to easily play most songs, from baroque arias to modern rock songs.

In Part 1, Peter walks you through all the steps necessary to building your very own AirHarp!  In Part 2, he shows how to upload the AirHarp firmware and hack the Arduino into being a class compliant USB MIDI controller!

AirHarp parts can be purchased directly from Peter!

Here's a clip of Peter playing "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Handel's "Rinaldo", proving that the diminutive AirHarp is more than just a novelty instrument:

Moco for LUFA (NEW address):
OLD address:

DFU command line arguments:
sudo dfu-programmer at90usb82 erase
sudo dfu-programmer at90usb82 flash MocoLUFA.hex
sudo dfu-programmer at90usb82 reset



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    15 Discussions

    Take a look at the dual moca lifa code that is now available. It works with the 16U2 and allows it to behave as either a USB serial device or a USB midi class compliant port.

    My first time using Arduino. The instructions on mention Arduino UNO R2, I haven't found R2 for sale but I'm assuming R3 will work also right?

    1 reply

    Sadly, the R3 went to a different co-processor (the ATmega16u2, if i recall... it's been a long time since I've executed these hacks). It's theoretically possible to hack the R3, but I don't think I ever succeeded in doing so, which is just one of several reasons why we phased out the AirHarp USB and replaced it with the AirHarp Lira. The AirHarp Lira doesn't have onboard USB but instead outputs note data via traditional MIDI (5-pin DIN). It's a better all-around instrument for more reasons than I could list here. There will be an Instructable at some point - for now, there's a PDF assembly manual on with pictures. If you have an AirHarp Shield board and are looking to build an AirHarp USB, you have several options. 1) Find an old Arduino Uno R2. Execute hack as shown. 2) Get a Fluxamasynth Shield from Modern Device. Use that for synthesis (this works great!) 3) Create or download a software synthesizer for Max/MSP, Perfect Data (PD), Supercollider, Csound, etc. that doesn't require MIDI input per se but that does accept generic serial input. This can be done - we just never got around to doing it. I wrote some Processing sketches that did similar things, but they were proofs of concept and way too primitive to be of use to anyone. 4) Add a traditional MIDI output to your AirHarp USB. Future AirHarp Shield models will probably incorporate this anyway, but it's possible to do by hand. Hope this helps! Let me know if there's anything else I can do and I'll try to help. Good luck! ~ Peter

    Well if you use an OS-specific driver on your computer (we have one for Mac and I believe there are some out there for Windows), OR build it with a synthesizer shield like the "Fluxamasynth Shield" from Modern Device, the older Arduinos work fine. But if you want class compliant USB MIDI (plug-and-play with no drivers required), you'll definitely need an Uno - preferably an R2 or R3, since the hack is a little easier with the ICSP header. :?)

    Are there any instructions somewhere how to build it with the Fluxamasynth Shield? Wanna build it on an hackduino Board and have it produce the music. No Midi needed

    Is there a way to make it work without a computer? just like this: ? I would even buy that one, I like those sounds.

    This is an AMAZING instrument, Peter! I've wanted something like this for a long time. I can't wait to get my hands on one. :)

    Aww, thanks! :D But really, it does sound better when I sing it in a slightly higher key. Handel wrote it in F - here I sing it 5 semitones down (C). I probably sing it best in D. I recorded a version in F (with my own English lyrics), but that was definitely pushing the limits of my range. I released that version a couple years ago on a free album:

    It's track #4 ("Savior").


    thanks, Linda! i probably should have done it in a higher key for my tessitura, but oh well. next time! ;?)